Farel Dalrymple challenges his readers. Think less esoteric snore-fest or stuffy exegesis and more … a dare. Dalrymple asks: can you keep up? If you can't or 'would prefer not to,' Dalrymple is down with that too. We all make choices. If The Wrenchies blows back your hair (or not), the truth is Dalrymple is as skilled of a cartoonist as anyone in the game today. Through his watercolors and his inks he creates something equal parts soft and hard, light and weighty. Only Farel draws like Farel. That's a 'feels' thing and not technical per se, unless, of course, art is supposed to make a person feel something …
Keith Silva for Comics Bulletin: With the exception of what … the binding? … The Wrenchies is all Farel Dalrymple. Comics being a collaborative medium, did creating something of this length, breadth and depth get lonely?
Drawing a comic always feels lonely to me. I have spent so many hours of my life by myself staring at a few inches of paper in front me. It is almost easier to me to feel isolated working on someone else's story because it is harder for me to align my thoughts with another person's vision. But it wasn't like I was locked up in a remote cabin in the woods somewhere. I was doing other things while working on The Wrenchies. I would show pages to my girlfriend and she would give me good feedback.
How long have you been thinking about these characters and this story?
I got my initial ideas for the story around 2007. I worked on creating actual pages somewhat erratically over the span of 5 years.
How has the time spent with these characters informed your process as the story developed?
Well I didn't really think about the challenges of having a big ensemble before I started working on The Wrenchies. I ended up getting rid of a few characters along the way just to help it make it a little more manageable. I wanted to keep delving into all the character's lives but I tried to keep the story on track. The same goes for the final chapter. As I was working on the book I kept adding ideas to the final part but when I started working on the final bit I had to get rid of a whole lot of stuff.
The Wrenchies features a comic book called The Wrenchies. What does this addition bring out in the narrative that wouldn't be there otherwise?
From the beginning I wanted these kids in the future to find a comic book titled The Wrenchies. The children Wrenchies I had originally called The Bolts. Pretty silly, I know. I think making Sherwood the cartoonist and having his imaginary girlfriend be his pseudonym and some other elements like that came together at different points during the early work. But I really got to put a lot of personal touches in that last chapter since I was sort of living the same frustrations Sherwood was having getting his book finished in time.
One of your characters says, ‘[comics] are not for everyone.’ Do you share the same sentiment?
Of course, I mean NASCAR isn't for everyone and a whole hell of a lot of people really love NASCAR, [there are] way more of those fans than comic readers. I am willing to bet that there are more people into cosplaying at comic book shows than people at comic book shows who regularly read comic books. Not that those groups of people would be mutually exclusive but hopefully you see what the point I am trying to make.
Among his many vocations, Sherwood is a cartoonist. Why add this to an already long list of occupations? Should the reader presume Farel Dalrymple is a super spy or a demon slayer?
Well those things are obviously made up because I don't really think magic and demons and all that stuff are actually real. It is a metaphysical and sort of psychedelic fantasy story. The comic book aspect was my own, and probably feeble attempt, of writing about something I personally knew about while incorporating some metaphorical and fantastical elements into that. There are some more superficial meanings to Sherwood being a wizard and making a comic as a way of casting an intricate spell. But I certainly do not think of myself as a wizard, cartooning wizard, or harry potter style, or a secret agent or anything that incredible.
But, like most children, I guess, I engaged in a lot of fantasies where I could be that sort of thing in my head. Sherwood isn't supposed to be me any more or any less than his girlfriend or his best friend is supposed to me. Sherwood was a child who was basically given these amazing powers and thrown into this crazy life of adventure ultimately leading to him to despair, addiction, and severe paranoia.
Sherwood is a cartoonist, yes. He also has a brother and no living parents. I don't have a brother and my parents are alive. I modeled the way his face looked after a good buddy of mine. I could go through all the differences between Sherwood and me, but really all the characters in The Wrenchies, and in all my own work, are part of me. I have never done any straight up autobiographical work though. I like to make up fantasy and laser gun type stuff.
There would seem to be a very personal aspect to Hollis and Sherwood more so than the other characters. How do you think about these two characters in particular?
Hollis is a good kid and the heart of the team. He was born out of his own time. I think Sherwood and The Wrenchies know this because they are all in touch with the magic of the world, but most people think of Hollis as this dorky weirdo, which he kind of is, but I really like him and so do his teammates. Sherwood could sense there was something special about Hollis, I mean he loved The Wrenchies comic, and he could tell he would be a good keeper of his amulet. Hollis is the most personal to me out of al the characters in the book. I have used him in other stories previous to The Wrenchies and he kind of took over the story in certain ways I wasn't expecting. I have him narrating two big sections of the book as letters to ''God.'' His own chapter was the easiest and most fun for me to make but is the hardest for me to look at now without getting a little emo about it. Both Hollis and Sherwood are the only main characters in the story we see in a more real world settings and not just a nutso post apoctolyptic world. So I think that right there would naturally have a more personal connection for some people.
The Wrenchies are survivors and symbols of youth. How much of yourself do you see in them?
Not as much myself at all. Bance especially but all of the Wrenchies are people Sherwood would like to be. The Wrenchies are supposed to be ''cool'' or something like that. I was never that. I tried to make them still kids but more badass than what is even remotely realistic. And a lot of the dialogue with the Wrenchies gang was inspired by the 1979 film, Over the Edge. I really like the way the kids in that movie swore and talked to each other.
There's an impetus in The Wrenchies to make stuff (comics, secret bases, time travel devices) from other stuff. Do you think about making/creating things consciously or is it who you are as an artist?
I like the idea of recycling and re-purposing things. I guess that comes from a lot of places but it is probably mostly some obsessive-compulsive disorder of mine. I tried to put some of my ideas about art and the world we live in into The Wrenchies hopefully without it coming off boring at all.
After the main narrative wraps, you include a short story, 'Fotogloctica,' which retells the story about Orson and Sherwood. Why did you include this and how does it fit into what went before?
That was the story that started it all. It originally ran in Meathaus SOS, a comic book anthology I did with some friends and part of my initial pitch to First Second. The original plan was to use that story as the start of the book, but then I felt like re-drawing the origin to set a different tone to the story. It seemed more fitting to me to tack it on at the very end, not as epilogue, really, more of a different version of the beginning. I didn't put any explanation of it in the book because I though it would distract from the feeling I was trying to make with the book as an object of art, mystery and magic. I like the reader to be able to do a little healthy mental work, but I don't want anyone getting hurt.